The election of Donald Trump last week was, for many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, a cause for deep dismay. Relations between the two countries have been a focal point of Trump’s campaign.
The 2000 mile border separating the United States of America and Mexico represents a distinctively close and constant case of international relations. While a border gives each country its physical shape, policy and politics make it real.
The border region, defined as the ten US and Mexican border states, represents a combined population of nearly 100 million people. It also has the fourth largest economy in the world– an impressive feat since it is only made up of a small fraction of two much larger countries.
Border crossings have historically been a hot topic and controversial issue for Americans, Mexicans and foreign travellers alike.
To see this, one need look no further than this year’s presidential election, which finally came to a shocking close last week with the election of Donald Trump. Immigration has always been one of the most influential issues affecting how Americans vote, and crossings from Mexico were a key issue in Trump’s campaign to be president.
His plan to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” (which Mexico will apparently pay for) has become an infamous image associated with the 2016 election, and a symbol for his agenda.
The importance of this promise was emphasised despite the fact that a 700 mile wall exists already. This 20ft high slatted-steel fence was built after the passing of the 2006 Secure Fence Act– a Republican concept that was supported by 27 Democratic senators, including Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton.
The importance of border protection to the US national psyche is not new
The fact that the idea of a border wall captured the attention and support of so many may be viewed as unsurprising. Customs and Border Protection is the biggest federal law enforcement agency in the US, with a budget greater than every other agency combined. The importance of border protection to the national psyche is not new.
Despite this fascination and apparent urgency, recent statistics show that immigration from Mexico has actually been falling.
The PEW Research Centre has revealed that while the overall number of illegal immigrants in America has been steady since 2009, there has been a decline in those arriving from Mexico, following the economic recession.
In contrast to this, however, the number of immigrants dying at the border has remained steadily high, with 240 immigrants and refugees losing their lives crossing from Mexico into the US last year.
Various reasons have been cited for this, and there are reports of much increased security in the main border towns. Those trying to cross the border are subsequently facing more physically dangerous routes through remote desert in high temperatures. In addition to this, levels of gang violence and organised crime remain high in the border region, and contribute to the growing risk.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) states that many fatalities in the area are suspected gang members killed in turf wars between the different organisations that compete for control of trafficking routes into the US.
The US is a country built on ideas of assimilation and a melting pot of immigrants, but these ideas have consistently contrasted with hostility towards immigration
Drug-related violence is a particular problem in the northern border states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa and Durango, and also in Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán and Nayarit.
Armed conflicts between security forces and drug gangs can occur at any time without warning, and exercising extreme caution in all of these states is highly recommended. In the past, the FCO has gone so far as to advise against all but essential travel to Ciudad Juarez. This is no longer the case, but it still advises individuals to take care, travel during daylight, inform relatives or friends of travel plans, and to use only reputable hotels.
In the face of the dominant view of Mexico’s border as violent and dangerous, a free bilingual concert was held on the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) last month with the aim of promoting inclusiveness despite the presence of a border.
CBX is the first binational airport terminal, and connects Tijuana in Mexico and San Diego in California.
The RiseUp As One show took place on October 15th, and featured some of the biggest names in Latin music, including Colombian pop stars Juanes and Carlos Vives, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, from the acclaimed musical Hamilton. There were also appearances from famous faces such as Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek and Wilmer Valderrama. Border crossings and their role in US-Mexican relations have, it seems, been important to a wide range of people this year.
As much as border crossings represent a life-or-death situation for those citizens of the USA and Mexico, they also present an issue for foreign travellers.
An anonymous Sussex student embarked on a road trip to Mexico from America, and passed through the small border town of Sonoyta.
She explained how her group was pulled over by the police just five minutes into the town. Despite having set cruise control in order to avoid any trouble, they were told that they were over the speed limit and asked by officers to pay $80 or go to the Mexican police station with them.
The FCO advice for travel to Mexico warns people to be wary of people presenting themselves as police officers and trying to make fines or arrests, which shows that this is no unique occurrence.
The travel guide for Mexico also mentions there have been a number of violent car-jackings and robberies along the Pacific Highway and advises everyone to be careful when travelling on this route from America. If you’re planning a trip to the border region, make sure you consult the FCO country specific advice for Mexico.
Donald Trump recently stated, “A nation without borders is not a nation at all”, and to an extent he is correct. Countries value their territory, and borders are an effective measure of this.
Saying this, the borders between US states can in some cases be just as extreme as those between countries, with hugely varying norms or even laws across one nation.
The US is a country built on ideas of assimilation and a melting pot of immigrants, but these ideas have consistently contrasted with hostility towards immigration and open borders. Trump’s great challenge is to keep his promise to curb immigration in an increasingly global world where travelling across borders is essential and inevitable.
We can only hope that the Trump administration will take the time to understand the unique nature of the problems at the border.